Homily of Pope John Paul II
Trans World Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
January 27, 1999
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the Incarnation, God fully reveals himself in the Son who came into the
world (cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 9). Our faith is not simply the result
of our searching for God. In Jesus Christ, it is God who comes in person to
speak to us and to show us the way to himself.
The Incarnation also reveals the truth about man. In Jesus Christ, the Father
has spoken the definitive word about our true destiny and the meaning of human
history (cf. ibid., 5). ``In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that
he loved us and sent his Son as an expiation for our sins'' (1 Jn 4:10). The
Apostle is speaking of the love that inspired the Son to become man and to dwell
among us. Through Jesus Christ we know how much the Father loves us. In Jesus
Christ, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, each one of us can share in the love
that is the life of the Blessed Trinity.
Saint John goes on: ``Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God
remains in him and he in God'' (1 Jn 4:15). Through faith in the Son of God made
man we abide in the very heart of God: ``God is love, and whoever remains in
love remains in God and God in him'' (1 Jn 4:16). These words open to us the
mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: the love and compassion of Jesus is the
door through which the eternal love of the Father is poured out on the world. In
celebrating this Mass of the Sacred Heart, let us open wide our own hearts to
Gods saving mercy!
In the Gospel reading which we have just heard, Saint Luke uses the figure of
the Good Shepherd to speak of this divine love. The Good Shepherd is an image
dear to Jesus in the Gospels. Answering the Pharisees who complained that he
welcomed sinners by eating with them, the Lord asks them a question: Which of
you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, would not leave the
ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? ``And
when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his
arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them:
Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep'' (Lk 15:5-6).
This parable highlights the joy of Christ and of our heavenly Father at every
sinner who repents. God's love is a love that searches us out. It is a love that
saves. This is the love that we find in the Heart of Jesus.
Once we know the love that is in the Heart of Christ, we know that every
individual, every family, every people on the face of the earth can place their
trust in that Heart. We have heard Moses say: ``You are a people sacred to the
Lord, your God . . . the Lord set his heart on you and chose you . . . because
the Lord loved you'' (Deut 7:6-8). From Old Testament times, the core of
salvation history is God's unfailing love and election, and our human answer to
that love. Our faith is our response to Gods love and election.
Three hundred years have passed since December 8, 1698, when the Holy
Sacrifice of the Mass was offered for the first time in what is now the City of
St. Louis. It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother,
and Father Montigny, Father Davion and Father St. Cosme set up a stone altar on
the banks of the Mississippi River and offered Mass. These three centuries have
been a history of God's love poured out in this part of the United States, and a
history of generous response to that love.
In this Archdiocese, the commandment of love has called forth an endless
series of activities for which today we give thanks to our heavenly Father. St.
Louis has been the Gateway to the West, but it has also been the gateway of
great Christian witness and evangelical service. In fidelity to Christ's command
to evangelize, the first pastor of this local Church, Bishop Joseph Rosati who
came from the town of Sora, very near Rome, promoted outstanding missionary
activity from the beginning. In fact, today we can count forty-six different
Dioceses in the area which Bishop Rosati served.
In this area, numerous Religious Congregations of men and women have labored
for the Gospel with exemplary dedication, generation after generation. Here can
be found the American roots of the evangelizing efforts of the Legion of Mary
and other associations of the lay apostolate. The work of the Society for the
Propagation of the Faith, made possible by the generous support of the people of
this Archdiocese, is a real sharing in the Church's response to command to
evangelize. From St. Louis, Cardinal Ritter sent the first Fidei Donum priests
to Latin America in 1956, giving practical expression to the exchange of gifts
which should always be a part of the communion between the Churches. This
solidarity within the Church was the central theme of last year's Special
Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, and it is the central idea of the
Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America the Church in America which I have
just signed and issued at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Here, by the grace of God, charitable activities of every kind have been a
vibrant part of Catholic life. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society has had a
privileged place in the Archdiocese from the beginning. Catholic Charities have
for years performed exceptional work in the name of Jesus Christ. Outstanding
Catholic health care services have shown the human face of the loving and
Catholic schools have proven to be of priceless value to generations of
children, teaching them to know, love and serve God, and preparing them to take
their place with responsibility in the community. Parents, teachers, pastors,
administrators and entire parishes have sacrificed enormously to maintain the
essential character of Catholic education as an authentic ministry of the Church
and an evangelical service to the young. The goals of the Strategic Pastoral
Plan of the Archdiocese evangelization, conversion, stewardship, Catholic
education, service to those in need have a long tradition here.
Today, American Catholics are seriously challenged to know and cherish this
immense heritage of holiness and service. Out of that heritage you must draw
inspiration and strength for the new evangelization so urgently needed at the
approach of the Third Christian Millennium. In the holiness and service of St.
Louis's own Saint Philippine Duchesne, and of countless faithful priests,
religious and laity since the Church's earliest days in this area, Catholic life
has appeared in all its rich and varied splendor. Nothing less is asked of you
As the new evangelization unfolds, it must include a special emphasis on the
family and the renewal of Christian marriage. In their primary mission of
communicating love to each other, of being co-creators with God of human life,
and of transmitting the love of God to their children, parents must know that
they are fully supported by the Church and by society. The new evangelization
must bring a fuller appreciation of the family as the primary and most vital
foundation of society, the first school of social virtue and solidarity (cf.
Familiaris Consortio, 42). As the family goes, so goes the nation!
The new evangelization must also bring out the truth that ``the Gospel of
God's love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of
life are a single and indivisible Gospel'' (Evangelium
Vitae, 2). As believers, how can we fail to see that
abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are a terrible rejection of Gods gift
of life and love? And as believers, how can we fail to feel the duty to surround
the sick and those in distress with the warmth of our affection and the support
that will help them always to embrace life?
The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally
pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every
situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of
human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done
great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without
definitively denying criminals the chance to reform (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 27).
I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the
death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.
As the new millennium approaches, there remains another great challenge
facing this community of St. Louis, east and west of the Mississippi, and not
St. Louis alone, but the whole country: to put an end to every form of racism, a
plague which your Bishops have called one of the most persistent and destructive
evils of the nation.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Gospel of God's love, which we are celebrating
today, finds its highest expression in the Eucharist. In the Mass and in
eucharistic adoration we meet the merciful love of God that passes through the
heart of Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, the good shepherd, I wish to make
an appeal an appeal to Catholics throughout the United States and wherever my
voice or words may reach especially to those who for one reason or another are
separated from the practice of their faith. On the eve of the Great Jubilee of
the two thousandth-anniversary of the Incarnation, Christ is seeking you out and
inviting you back to the community of faith. Is this not the moment for you to
experience the joy of returning to the Father's house? In some cases there may
still be obstacles to eucharistic participation; in some cases there may be
memories to be healed; in all cases there is the assurance of God's love and
The Great Jubilee of the year 2000 will begin with the opening of the holy
door in Saint Peters Basilica in Rome: This is a powerful symbol of the Church
open to everyone who feels a need for the love and mercy of the Heart of Christ.
In the Gospel, Jesus says: '' I am the door; whoever enters through me will be
saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture'' (cf. Jn 10:9).
Our Christian life can be seen as a great pilgrimage to the house of the
Father, which passes through the door that is Jesus Christ. The key to that door
is repentance and conversion. The strength to pass through that door comes from
our faith and hope and love. For many Catholics, an important part of the
journey must be to rediscover the joy of belonging to the Church, to cherish the
Church as the Lord has given her to us, as Mother and Teacher.
Living in the Holy Spirit, the Church looks forward to the Millennium as a
time of far-reaching spiritual renewal. The Spirit will truly bring about a new
springtime of faith if Christian hearts are filled with new attitudes of
humility, generosity and openness to his purifying grace. In parishes and
communities across this land holiness and Christian service will flourish if
``you come to know and believe in the love God has for you'' (cf. 1 Jn 4:16).
Mary, Mother of Mercy, teach the people of St. Louis and of the United States
to say yes to your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!
Mother of the Church, on the way to the Great Jubilee of the Third
Millennium, be the Star which safely guides our steps to the Lord!
Virgin of Nazareth, two thousand years ago you brought into the world the
Incarnate Word: lead the men and women of the new Millennium to the One who is
the true light of the world! Amen.
Statements of the Pope on Abortion